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Thursday, 24 June 2010 23:30

Rudd or Gillard, Labor's tech bungles will continue


If half the efficiency that the faceless machine-men of the federal Labor party's factions showed in dumping Kevin Rudd as PM and installing Julia Gillard in his place had been exhibited by the government over its 941 days of office, then we would be well on the way to having a national broadband network.

Sadly that is not the case because the Labor party excels only at politics and backroom assassinations. When it comes to execution of a project, a plan, an assignment, the Labor party makes Manuel of Fawlty Towers fame look like a model of efficiency. When technology is involved, what results is a mess of gigantic proportions.

In 2007, when Rudd was campaigning, he made numerous tech-related promises in order to capture a section of the vote that was judged to be averse to John Howard. The Liberal PM was painted as yesterday's man and Rudd was projected as someone who was clued in when it came to technology.

Labor's term of office is coming to an end and what is there to show on the technology front? Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zip. Zero.

Now, I'm pretty sure that a number of people will shout out, "hey, what about the NBN deal with Telstra?" To which my reply would be: "It means nothing." More on this later.

The Labor party promised to provide laptops to children in schools - without realising that there would be a pretty big bill for servicing these same laptops. Perhaps the good folk in the party thought they ran on
love and fresh air because the electricity costs were not factored in either.

When it became apparent that the figures were all wrong, the rollout hit the skids. There was no effort to look for cheaper alternatives - even though this was supposed to be about children becoming computer-literate, not Windows-literate (though the use of the word literate in conjunction with Windows is a clear oxymoron).

The idea of providing laptops to children was, no doubt, influenced to some extent by the One Laptop per Child Project, the brainchild of MIT staffer Nicholas Negroponte, and one of the most misguided efforts of the 21st century. In some curious way, being able to use a laptop is tied up with education - though there is no empirical evidence to show that the two are complementary.

But let's forget that. At least if the project had been planned properly and not thought up just for political purposes, it would have passed muster. As things stand, the deployment is still limping along - with many of the laptops having been provided to schools which do not have the infrastructure to use them! (My colleague James Riley has much more detail on this.)

With all the talk about the need for fast broadband - what we have in Australia right now is something I characterise as fraudband - one would have thought that two years would have been sufficient to get the process underway. But given that the task was handed to Stephen "Internet Filter" Conroy, a Labor MP from the right faction, the whole process became more of an ideological battle with Telstra.

When Telstra refused to bend, suddenly we had a new plan, pulled out of thin air, costing $43 billion. Management consultants were brought in to say that the project was manageable within this budget - and when a consultant is paid $25 million, it is reasonable to expect that they would not bite the hand that feeds them.

Still Telstra did not bite. This year the government has built up enough unfinished business on its plate to seriously affect its rating in the opinion polls. At this stage, it wanted to get as many things off its
plate as possible - and so a political deal was struck with Telstra.

This deal is not binding - either the NBN or Telstra can walk away at any time. If the Liberals get back into power they will cancel the NBN project altogether. Their attitude to fast broadband hacks back to the Neanderthal era - it was one of their own, Richard Alston, who asserted that people wanted fast broadband only to look at porn! Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the audio and video to sync on the Daily Show video clip I'm trying to watch. Thanks, Richard.

Conroy, in the meantime, has been obsessed with the idea of filtering out content that he deems to be "harmful" to Australians - not realising that two of the most closeted countries in the world, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, gave up on the idea many years back because they realised that to do it properly would cost far too much.

So what does Labor have to show for itself on the technology front? Nothing. The ascension of Gillard will make no difference - after all, it is the same Conroy who will continue to be the minister until the elections.

Even if Gillard brings in Kate Lundy, whom many see as some kind of saviour, things are unlikely to change. Lundy is big on airy-fairy things like Web 2.0, a term coined by the vacuous Tim O'Reilly, one which means nothing. If you want more such terms, here's a good source, gentle reader.

And if this wasn't enough, we now hear talk about the government considering plans to mandate that ISPs archive all internet use data - including the logs of what sites you and I visit. Now this is enlightenment of the ultimate kind. I'm just waiting for the day when Labor inefficiency results in getting the data of individuals mixed up.

In India, the country from which I hail, we have a proverb that runs thus: "It is dangerous to put a matchbox in the hands of a monkey." Do I need to elaborate on that?


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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